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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Restoration Projects Continue In Florida

Photo retrieved from NOAA of oyster restoration project after Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Posted on June 19, 2024

Fossil fuels have damaged our world and continue to do so. None represents the impact more than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, after which federal and state agencies came together to form the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council. The Trustees studied the effects of the oil spill and continue to restore the Gulf of Mexico to the condition it would have been in if the spill had not happened.

During the course of the damage assessment, the Trustee Council collected a large amount of data to document the location and extent of the ecosystem injuries, including tens of thousands samples of oil, water, sediment, and tissue from wildlife to determine the impacts from oil. Based on past research and assessments of previous spills, they knew that oil and toxins in oil can harm many kinds of organisms. Oil can kill organisms or have effects on future generations. Potential long-term harmful effects include genetic damage, liver disease, cancer, and impairment of reproductive, developmental, and immune systems.

This month we learned about work in the Florida Area of the Deepwater Horizon Spill Restoration, which is focusing on restoring water quality and wetlands, coastal and nearshore habitats, as well as replenishing and protecting sea turtles, marine mammals, birds, and oysters. The scope of the endeavor includes providing and enhancing habitats on federal lands. Together, the Trustees are replenishing natural resources—and the services they provide—that were injured by the spill. They say they are developing project-specific reestablishment plans that are consistent with original resource allocations.

Here are 10 of those Deepwater Horizon restoration projects that will affect multiple and often interconnected ecosystems.

Beach and Dune Habitat Protection at Gulf Islands National Seashore: The project will protect beach-dune habitat and associated wildlife areas at Gulf Islands National Seashore from three different threats: 1) human disturbance; 2) vehicle collisions on paved roads; and 3) predators. Specifically, this 3-year project will: 1) identify sensitive areas and use fencing to close those areas to protect habitat, wildlife, and bird nests and to prevent dune trampling; 2) if feasible, establish wildlife viewing areas at the edge of major bird colonies; 3) educate visitors on habitats and wildlife (including breeding birds); 4) set up temporary signage and speed bumps and establish law enforcement patrols to monitor and control speeding vehicles and reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife; 5) implement predator management techniques such as perch deterrents and enclosures around bird and turtle nests; 6) survey animal burrows, bird nests, and colonies for predator activity and human disturbance; and 7) monitor bird nest success and fledging rates.

Carpenter Creek Headwaters Water Quality Improvements: The project will reduce pollutant loading and hydrologic degradation in this 2.6 acre urban watershed. The project includes acquisition of 6 acres of land for construction of a stormwater treatment facility. The restored wetland will improve habitats and species that depend on wetland habitats, stabilize the soils, and reduce erosion and sediment loading into Carpenter Creek.

City of Carrabelle’s Lighthouse Estates: Septic Tank Abatement – Phase II: The project will improve water quality in Apalachicola Bay and St. George Sound by connecting homes near the bay currently served by septic systems to a central wastewater treatment system. The project will directly improve water quality in watersheds injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by reducing the discharge pollutant loading that otherwise would impact the health and quality of estuarine habitats in receiving waters. The project will also help to reduce the potential for beach closures, restrictions on shellfish harvesting, and human health impacts from microbial pathogens. Additionally, nitrogen loading to Apalachicola Bay from the Lighthouse Estates area will be reduced by approximately 3,000 pounds per year due to the significantly improved water quality treatment achieved by the city’s wastewater plant as compared with that provided by the individual septic systems.

Conducting Habitat Suitability Analyses to Identify Optimal Oyster Restoration Locations Along Florida’s Gulf Coast: This project will address critical data gaps to oyster restoration in Florida by assessing habitat suitability for oysters, therefore greatly increasing the success of future oyster restoration efforts. Six basins along the Gulf Coast will be analyzed to provide critical information on the most suitable Deepwater Horizon damaged restoration sites and sequencing of Natural Resource Damage Assessment implementation activities. This will involve 1) data compilation, 2) benthic mapping, 3) field deployment and oyster reef monitoring, and 4) development of GIS-based HSI maps.

Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge Vegetation Management and Dune Retention: This project will restore, protect, and enhance coastal wading bird, seabird, and shorebird nesting and foraging habitat on Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge through the chemical removal of invasive vegetation, planting of native plant species, and subsequent reduction in shoreline erosion. Specifically, this project will remove invasive plants by conducting chemical treatment and mechanical removal of coin vine, with subsequent pile burning, on approximately 12 untreated acres and 12 previously treated acres in areas that were, are, or could potentially be bird-nesting habitat and restore and protect bird-nesting habitat by planting native vegetation and installing sand fencing, where appropriate. In 2023, the project team awarded an invasive species removal and native vegetation planting contract on the eastern part of the island, treating a total of 24 acres.

Evaluating Orientation Response of Sea Turtle Hatchlings to Physical Cues on Nesting Beaches: This project will investigate sea turtle hatchling orientation response to specific cues related to physical and biological beach features to inform future conservation and restoration actions of nesting habitat along Florida’s developed beaches. It will improve understanding of hatchling perception of and response to visible light using laboratory and field experiments. The project will measure the visual landscape (e.g., light and dark areas) on study beaches likely to have artificial lighting issues and use behavioral assays to assess the relationship between hatchling orientation and different structural alterations (e.g., installing a light shield or taller vegetation) designed to alter the existing light environment on the beaches.

Florida Gulf Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network: The project will maintain the Florida Gulf Coast’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network capabilities to identify, characterize, and quantify marine mammal morbidity and mortality factors and provide conservation managers critical and timely information needed to inform effective actions and plans aimed at mitigating or eliminating threats to marine mammal species. Mortality investigations will also provide a critical feedback loop to help assess the effectiveness of management actions over time. This project will continue the work funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund project on Increased Capacity for Marine Mammal Response and Analysis.

Invasive Plant Removal at Gulf Islands National Seashore: This project expanded beyond its original intended five most problematic invasive plant species in the Gulf Islands National Seashore when all invasive plant species found were identified and inventoried. Now 20 species are being treated. The project is helping to gradually restore coastal habitats and native plant species in these areas, which will likely allow native animal populations that depend on these coastal habitats and plants to also improve.

Northeast Florida Coastal Predation Management: The project will implement predation management measures at critical nesting sites to increase breeding success for injured bird species such as state-threatened American oystercatchers, least terns, and black skimmers, as well as Wilson’s plovers, a species designated as having the greatest conservation need. The project will be conducted as an essential component of the Florida Wildlife Conservation’s existing Florida Shorebird Program that includes posting shorebird nesting habitat, monitoring, stewarding, and law enforcement patrol efforts.

Pensacola Beach Reclaimed Water System Expansion: The project aims to reduce the discharge of nutrients and other pollutants into Santa Rosa Sound by expanding the Emerald Coast Utility Authority’s (ECUA) Pensacola Beach Reclaimed Water System. This project includes making additional reclaimed water available for irrigation of more public rights-of-way and making reclaimed water available for irrigation of commercial and residential areas. The project includes constructing pumping facilities, reuse transmission, and distribution lines. Ecological benefits include reduced nutrient loading to Santa Rosa Sound and conservation of potable water and reduced demand on the Sand-and-Gravel aquifer, ECUA’s drinking water source. Combining the current reuse of approximately 120,000 gallons per day with this project would lead to a reduction in approximately 8,500 pounds of annual nitrogen (at permit discharge limits), 2,850 pounds of phosphorus, and 14,000 pounds per year of total suspended solids into Santa Rosa Sound.


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